Kids Corner


Tools, Not Rules




I've been at my new University for about a month now and a few people have approached me to ask what religion I belong to and why I do the things I do.  

Most of my fellow students come from outside the U.K. or U.S.A. and have never heard of Sikhism, hence their curiousity. An outgoing Italian neighbor even suggested that I introduce myself by saying "Hi, my name's Fi, and I'm a Sikh!" so more people would feel they could ask about Sikhi rather than observing a polite silence!

The situations in which people have asked have been varied - a house party, an event held by the Christian Union, a Buddhist meditation evening, and on a ramble through the local countryside - but the same kinds of questions are popular. 

A common recurring theme I have noticed is that of rules.  What does Sikhism prevent you from doing? How does it restrict your lifestyle? What can't you do? What's ... forbidden?

These kind of questions make me smile, mostly because I am exactly the kind of person who has an immediate resistance to being told what to do, or how to do something.  My sister would tell you that whenever I have bought a flat-packed piece of furniture I have always thrown the manual for its assembly to one side and tinkered fruitlessly for half an hour before proclaiming the limits of my attention-span and patience well and truly reached. In other words, I don't tend to find rules particularly motivating, and even if I know I will be unsuccessful in my own experiments or methods, I much prefer exercising my imagination and enjoying the process of trying to figure something out for myself.

How does this perspective fit in with Sikhi, and is it a help or a hindrance?

Well, there are a few things about the Sikh lifestyle that could be construed as instructive - such as the basic "rules" of the maryada, for example.

Whenever I hear them expressed in public as do's and don'ts, I glance into the audience to rate how bored/ uninspired/ guilty the people around me are looking. When the teachings of Sikhi are reduced to something that sounds like a rulebook, I feel like leaping up and re-creating my flat-pack furniture experience; not just because it has worked for me, but because I think the light-hearted spirit with which you enter a spot of DIY is just as suited to living the principles of Sikhi. I propose (continuing the home-improvements theme) that we rename the "rules" as "tools".

Instead of being listed under Do's and Don'ts in ‘The Rulebook', ‘The Toolbook' is an interactive manual listing the various tools of Sikhi along with their uses, handy hints and tips.

For example:

Kes (unshorn hair)

Common uses:  This tool is primarily useful for creating distance between "the world out there"- (a world obsessed with physical appearances) and "the world in there"- ( an inner strength and confidence in your own natural beauty.)  It can serve as a physical reminder that you are travelling a seperate path to everyone else, but simultaneously singles you out from the crowd, reminding you not to derive false importance from your mission.

How to use:  Sit back and let it grow!

Handy hints:

(despite not having to lift a finger, many people find this tool difficult to use, therefore the following may be useful):

Reduced time in front of the mirror, discarding any magnifying mirrors, research suggesting 98% of media images are airbrushed, remembering that most people are as self-conscious as you and will be so focussed on themselves they will hardly notice you anyway.

Unlike ‘The Rulebook', which can not only make people feel bored and unmotivated but is sadly sometimes used by one person against another, ‘The Toolbookshows you that there are things to make your life on Earth ... easier. You might have to play around with your technique a bit before you get the tools working for you, but when you do, the results will pay for themselves.

And this approach doesn't just work for the things that most people get caught up on, but for the finer details within Sikhi, like getting up for Amritvela, doing your Nitnem or the three fundamental pillars of Sikhism.

It's all a learning opportunity!


[Edited for Courtesy: Sikh and You Shall Find

October 28, 2010


Conversation about this article

1: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), October 28, 2010, 7:42 PM.

Well said, Fi. I like your approach to Sikhi a whole lot. That is what the Guru Granth is supposed to be, a DIY manual on leading a purposeful, fulfilling life.

2: Savraj Singh (Pennington, New Jersey, U.S.A.), October 29, 2010, 10:17 AM.

Yes, I totally see where you are coming from. The way we need to view everything is a choice. For example, when I tell people I am Sikh, they say, "Oh, does that mean you can't drink? Or is it for religious reasons that you don't drink?" My response is that I choose not to drink. Everything's a choice - if I say, yeah, it's for religion, it sounds like I'm under duress and unhappy about it. No. It's a conscious choice - it's my life, I can choose whatever I want. ;)

3: Sukhumandir Kaur (California, U.S.A.), October 29, 2010, 8:24 PM.

I see our code of conduct very much as a way to tune out the static while tuning into naam. This is a great article. I wrote about it in my blog linked to your article and expounded further on your tool book theory.

4: Simran Singh (Oceanside, U.S.A.), November 06, 2010, 3:49 AM.

Simple. Effective. Love it.

5: J. Kaur (U.S.A.), November 26, 2010, 10:51 AM.

Wow, what a great way to spin the Maryada for newcomers. I don't find the maryada boring, but the presentation to the mass public is often boring and stifling. I would never welcome someone to my house and say: "Hi, come in but don't jump on the couch. Do use a coaster." Great article!

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